'The first scene (the division of the kingdom) bears no resemblance to palace ceremonials, it is more like a gambling house, only everyone's eyes are fixed not on cards, but on a geographical map...the King's finger traces lines on the parchment, outlining the new boundaries of the kingdom...drops of sweat break out on the foreheads of those standing in front...the game comes to an end, the lights go out...and war will begin...'
Grigori Kozintsev in his film diary King Lear: The Space of Tragedy
King Lear has had a number of outstanding film versions, including definitive productions by Peter Brook and Grigori Kozintsev, as well as an excellent adaption by Akira Kurosawa. Both Al Pacino and Anthony Hopkins are due to begin filming new big screen versions. Films of King Lear have also been successfully presented on television, with classic performances by Orson Welles, Laurence Olivier, James Earl Jones, Michael Hordern, Ian Holm and a TV version with Ian McKellen directed by Trevor Nunn. Some of the most notable versions of King Lear on film are:
1909 William V Ranous directed and starred as King Lear in this short silent film version.
1910 Gerolamo Lo Savio directed a silent version of King Lear called Re Lear. Only 16 minutes long, the film was preserved by the BFI and has been restored, including its unique hand-tinted colour. It is currently available as part of the Silent Shakespeare DVD. Click here for more information on Re Lear and Silent Shakespeare.
1953 Orson Welles starred in King Lear made for American television and broadcast on CBS.
1971 was an incredible year for King Lear films with Grigori Kozintsev's monumental Russian version and Peter Brook's bleak and harrowing English vision -
Korol Lir, as Kozintsev's film is often called, has a towering central performance by Juri Jarvet and a Russian script by Boris Pasternak. The opening sequence of Lear entering into his court and dividing the kingdom has inspired countless directors with its brash bravura and yet detailed clarity of characters, status and situation. For more information on Kozintsev's Korol Lir including cast, crew, production details and how to get a DVD click here.
Peter Brook's ground-breaking version starred Paul Scofield as Lear and a stunning Irene Worth as Goneril. The film followed on from Brook's stage production in setting Lear's kingdom as a cross between pre-Christian paganism and post-nuclear holocaust. For more details on Peter Brook's King Lear including cast, crew, production details and how to get a DVD copy click here.
1974 The New York Shakespeare Festival production starring James Earl Jones was broadcast on PBS television in America.
1982 Michael Hordern starred in Jonathan Miller's clear and intelligent television production as part of the BBC Classic Shakespeare. For our special fact sheet on the BBC film of King Lear with further details, cast, crew, dates and times and how to get a dvd click here.
1983 Laurence Olivier in a Michael Elliot directed Granada TV production finally got his chance to play King Lear on film. He had previously played the part on stage in 1938 directed by Tyrone Guthrie when he was just 31 years old. For more details on Laurence Olivier's King Lear film including cast, crew and how to get a copy click here.
1985 Akira Kurosawa outstandingly adapted King Lear as Ran, which won the BAFTA award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1987.
1987 Jean Luc Godard directed a highly personal King Lear with Woody Allen, Molly Ringwald, Julie Delpy, Norman Mailer and the opera director Peter Sellars as William Shaksper Junior the Fifth, set in a post-Chernobyl world.
1994 Nicholas Hytner's film of Alan Bennett's award-winning stage play The Madness of King George, featured Nigel Hawthorne memorably re-enacting King Lear in his attempts to recover his mind from madness.
1998 Jessica Lange and Michelle Pfeiffer starred in a film version of A Thousand Acres, based on Jane Smiley's novel which transposes King Lear to an Iowa farm.
1998 Richard Eyre directed a BBC Performance film of his award-winning stage production with Ian Holm as King Lear. For more information on Richard Eyre's King Lear including cast, crew and how to get a DVD click here.
2000 Kristian Levring, a member of the Dogme cinema group from Denmark, made The King is Alive in which the passengers of a bus that breaks down in the desert, decide to stage King Lear. The film starred Miles Anderson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Janet McTeer and Bruce Davison and was filmed in Namibia.
2001 Don Boyd's My Kingdom was a transplanting of King Lear to contemporary Liverpool. Richard Harris is a gangster who splits his criminal empire between his three daughters. The film also stars Lynn Redgrave, Aidan Gillen, Jimi Mistry and Colin Salmon.
2002 Patrick Stewart played John Lear, a Texan rancher who divides his land between his three daughters in Uli Edel's made for TV film King of Texas. With Marcia Gay Harden, Lauren Holly, Roy Scheider and Matt Letscher and with a script by Stephen Harrigan, King of Texas was produced by Hallmark Entertainment.
2007 The Last Lear directed by Rituparno Ghosh, starred Amitabh Bacchan as Harry Mishrah an aging Shakespearean actor who quits the profession just before he is due to play King Lear. Harry is offered a film role by a young director and finds himself coaching his young co-star. Performed in English by an Indian cast, the film makes great use of lines from Shakespeare in the flashbacks and Harry's demise is parallelled with Lear.
2008 Trevor Nunn's filmed for TV version of his acclaimed Royal Shakespeare Company production starring Ian McKellen as Lear. King Lear was notable as a stage production for the storm scene which McKellen performed trouserless, and follows a history of spectacular stage to screen collaborations between Nunn and McKellen, starting with a 1979 TV film of Macbeth and including the film release in 1990 of Othello which starred Willard White and Ian McKellen as Iago. For more detailed information on Trevor Nunn's King Lear including cast, crew and how to get a DVD click here.
2010 Anthony Hopkins is expected to start filming a major version of King Lear, with Keira Knightley as Cordelia, Gwyneth Paltrow as Regan and Naomi Watts as Goneril. The movie will be directed by Joshua Michael Stern. Hopkins previously played King Lear in 1986 on stage at the National Theatre directed by David Hare and co-starring Bill Nighy as Edgar.
2010 Al Pacino has recently announced that he too will star in a new film of King Lear. The film is to be directed by Michael Radford who previously worked with Pacino on The Merchant of Venice in 2004. The new movie will be the first time Pacino has tackled Lear, after success on film with both Shylock and Richard III in his self-directed Looking for Richard. On stage, Pacino has famously played Richard III in a 1979 Broadway production, as well as Antony in Julius Caesar